Serge Ibaka returns from ‘postseason-ending’ injury and transforms Thunder-Spurs series

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The Oklahoma Thunder were running out the clock in their Game 3 win over the Spurs, and Serge Ibaka was still on the court. Considering his injury, it appeared long past the time he should have been removed. Eventually, Kevin Durant left his seat on the bench and approached Scott Brooks.

“Get Serge,” Durant appeared to say.

Less than a minute later, Ibaka was pointing to the sky and walking to the bench as the Oklahoma City fans showered him with a standing ovation.

You can understand Brooks playing Ibaka too long. Thunder rolled the dice on Ibaka once already tonight, and the results were spectacular.

Playing for the first time since Oklahoma City ruled him out for the rest of the playoffs, Ibaka scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots. The Thunder outscored San Antonio by 11 during his 30 minutes in their nine-point win.

“I try to do my best I can to be everywhere,” Ibaka said.

He sure did.

Showing only occasional effects of his strained calf, Ibaka proved crucial on both ends of the floor.

From the game’s very first possession, when he used his long arms and quickness to close successfully on a Tony Parker mid-range jumper, Ibaka disrupted San Antonio’s previously surging offense.

The Spurs have shot 64 percent in the paint with Ibaka off the court this series and 46 percent with him on it. They’ve also taken just 44 percent, as opposed to 53 percent, of their shots in that high-efficiency area against Ibaka.

Indirectly, Ibaka made a much wider defensive impact. The Thunder stuck closer to San Antonio all over the court, likely in part because they knew Ibaka was protecting the paint in case they got beat.

Offensively, Ibaka’s mid-range jumpers proved a critical tertiary option. He needed fewer than 12 minutes of playing time to outscore Oklahoma City’s non-Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook starters in Games 1 and 2 combined.

Other elements also changed from Games 1 and 2 – the series moved to Oklahoma City, and Reggie Jackson started – but Ibaka played the most-influential game of the 2014 playoffs so far. Considering the stakes and his injury, this could go down a legendary performance in Thunder history. Oklahoma City’s offensive rating (92.6 to 125.7) and defensive rating (116.8 to 98.7) turned around dramatically with Ibaka on the court from off it.

But Ibaka’s big night will be viewed as historic only if the Thunder win this series. They’re still down 2-1, and they need their ailing X-Factor to produce like this again in Game 4 Tuesday. That’s a short turnaround in the playoffs, and the emotional high Ibaka felt tonight will be reduced.

Ibaka changes this entire series. He doesn’t mean the Thunder will win it.

But he means they could.

Report: Kevin McHale also in mix for team president in Orlando

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Cavaliers GM David Griffin — who doesn’t have a contract with the team beyond this year, but who LeBron James has endorsed — is on their radar.

Larry Bird, who is stepping down in Indiana, is a potential target.

You can add Kevin McHale to the list of former NBA executives the Orlando Magic are taking a look at in their search for a new head of basketball operations, reports Sam Amick of the USA Today.

The Orlando Magic have serious interest in Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Kevin McHale for their team president position, according to two people with knowledge of the situation….But McHale, who served as Minnesota Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations from 1995 to 2008 while also serving as the team’s head coach on two occasions, is known to be on the Timberwolves’ short list as well. The Magic would strongly prefer someone who has previously been a general manager for the president position.

But McHale, who served as Minnesota Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations from 1995 to 2008 while also serving as the team’s head coach on two occasions, is known to be on the Timberwolves’ short list as well. The Magic would strongly prefer someone who has previously been a general manager for the president position.

McHale made some franchise-defining moves as the head man in Minnesota — he drafted Kevin Garnett and he brought Flip Saunders into the organization, he brought in Sam Cassell and Latrell Spreewell and that got the Timberwolves to the conference finals in 2004, to use a few examples.

He had his share of mistakes, too. Like drafting Ray Allen then trading him for Stephon Marbury, or drafting Brandon Roy and trading him for Randy Foye.

The Orlando roster has talent on it — Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, maybe Elfrid Payton — and a quality coach in place with Frank Vogel. That said the talent on the roster does not fit and Orlando desperately needed someone willing to shake things up, who wasn’t too invested in “their guys” to realize the roster’s serious shortcomings.

McHale could do that. It looks like we are a month or more from finding out, however, as Griffin isn’t going anywhere until after the Cavaliers season — which likely extends into June. If the Magic are serious about him, this process is going to drag out.

Joel Embiid was hanging out with Philly fans at the NFL Draft

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Joel Embiid is a man of the people.

And last night the people in Philadelphia were all Eagles fans, watching the NFL Draft unfold.

Embiid was out there with them. Literally.

Ben Simmons was there as well with Embiid, according to CSNPhilly.com.

Philadelphia fans can only hope the Eagles draft as well — and have WAY better injury luck — than the Sixers.

Moving to new arena, Detroit Pistons submit bids to host 2020 or 2021 All-Star Game

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DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Pistons have put in bids to host a future NBA All-Star Game at Little Caesars Arena.

The team says in a release Friday that bids were submitted to the league for 2020 and 2021.

Little Caesars Arena is being built just north of downtown Detroit and is expected to open this year. It also will be home to the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings.

In November, the Pistons announced the team was moving back to Detroit from The Palace of Auburn Hills.

The city of Detroit last hosted the NBA’s All-Star Game in 1959. The 1979 game was played in Pontiac when the Pistons’ home court was the Silverdome.

NBA All-Star events include the All-Star Game, NBA Rising Stars Challenge, a celebrity game, skills competition and fan events.

PBT Extra: Does Larry Bird stepping down change Paul George question in Indiana?

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When the Woj bomb dropped that Larry Bird was stepping down as president of the Indiana Pacers, two questions came to mind. First was, “Is he healthy?” Reportedly he is, this was not a healthy-related decision. Which is great news.

Second, what does that mean for Paul George?

Is Indiana more likely to trade him now? Less?

George speculation has ramped up around the league and — while no doubt new GM Kevin Pritchard will say he would love to keep PG13 when he speaks to the media — there is a sense Bird walking away could be a sign that the Pacers are moving into rebuilding mode. That said, Pritchard is known for driving a hard bargain, he’s not going DeMarcus Cousins trade here.

I talk about all of that and more in this latest PBT Extra.